And I will tell you, Class of 2013, whatever success I have achieved, whatever positions of leadership I have held have depended less on Ivy League degrees or SAT scores or GPAs, and have instead been due to that sense of connection and empathy — the special obligation I felt, as a black man like you, to help those who need it most, people who didn’t have the opportunities that I had — because there but for the grace of God, go I — I might have been in their shoes. I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family. And that motivates me.

President Barack Obama
Commencement Speech Morehouse College
May 19, 2013

Text of entire Speech @

President Obama gave a heartfelt commencement speech yesterday in the style that only he can present. He was more open, honest and direct about his life and his short comings than I can ever recall from the past. That being said the above quote resonates with me regarding the double speak coming out of Washington D.C.

His reference to whatever success I have achieved, whatever positions of leadership I have held have depended less on Ivy League degrees or SAT scores or GPAs, and “have instead been due to that sense of connection and empathy”

This is a great disconnect for me when I tried to reconciled President Obama’s educational policies such as Race to the Top and the selection of Arne Duncan as his Secretary of Education who is an advocate of the reform movement that is decimating public education and the middle class. How does the drunken frenzy over data collection and high stakes testing maintain that sense of connection and empathy. Testing has moved away from being the diagnostic tool used to determine the academic skill and abilities of the student. That information was critical to the teacher who in turn would create individual learning plans to help mitigate any learning deficiencies. The ultimate goal was to, as a result, optimize the students abilities to integrate with their world across multiple academic and social domains. Instead in today’s world the tool of testing has become the primary venue to identify a teacher’s aptitude for successfully getting students to a prescribed level of academic prowess no mater what may impact that student along the way. This was never the purpose of testing and it design does not begin to reveal usable data for that purpose. This is not a realistic approach to helping/teaching students on how to improve the human condition as an individual as well as a society.

The intangibles that tests can not provide in getting a quality education as well as establishing enduring understandings of the world in which we must live, work, and protect is grounded in developing that sense of connection and empathy. No series of tests can help create curiosity or develop the ability to reason with others as we live to make ours and others existence in this world of a higher quality. He has described in his short phrase what I have always considered the “art/craft of teaching” which in his own very powerful words is something he values above all else. His actions of providing academic/social opportunities for his children further embrace the “art/craft of teaching” so as to create that sense of connection and empathy within them speaks even louder than his own words to his fervent belief that there are multiple desirable/essential facets to a quality education. His actions are congruent with his words on a personal level and yet, in my opinion, are a great disconnect where his educational policies are concerned both in the policies themselves and his choice of whom to implement them.

If he is truly speaking from the heart yesterday, and I believe he is, how can he meld his policies with what he is conveying to the graduation class. Many references to the great men who have graduated from Morehouse College as guiding lights to the graduates as they create their future goals and aspirations included multiple references to Dr. Martin King Jr. and what he learned, how he assimilated his learning’s and understandings into actions of change through non-violent civil disobedience and tenacity. I would find it difficult to believe any of the great alumni would agree with the action of the federal government and it’s support for the erosion of the public education and the mutated (re)form it now taking across the country as a viable way out for anyone that has the inordinate challenges of poverty and lingering prejudice to be able to identify reachable and sustainable aspirations for their and their family’s future.

If I had the opportunity to ask I would ask the following:

Mr. President what must be done so that all children can be engaged in the endeavor of developing that sense of connection and empathy that serves the whole child starting deep inside of themselves and manifests itself in the actions you so strongly challenged the Morehouse Men to take on as they make their mark on the world that awaits them … and how can I best give my energy to help? For you see that 1948 graduate’s insight into the world has never been stronger than today and he agrees with your assertion that education is about developing that sense of connection and empathy when he said:

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically… Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

Martin Luther King Jr.